Saturday, November 08, 2003

Helping Stephen Glass make amends for his bad behavior 

To be honest, your faithful correspondent hasn't much of an opinion about America's favorite cheatin', lyin', ethically dubious journalistic bastard. But she would, like others before her, urge her readers to send in their best suggestions on how the Fabulist Mr. Glass should redeem himself, however slightly, before he should ever really be allowed back in journalism (shame on you, Rolling Stone.)

My brother's suggestion is that Steve be consigned to a fate truly Worse Than Death: reporting on flower shows, exploding tomatoes, and other slices of the charming, cutesy, boring, and mundane events that occur in a small town where nothing much at all happens. Doing this, he adds, for a local cable access show or small-circulation newspaper where the editor's watching closely. Hey, it's incredibly important to fact-check that the flowers were gorgeously violet irises, not wonderfully red roses.....

Saturday morning news, reviews and more 

First, let's check in with the Guardian: reviews of James Lee Burke's latest Robicheaux novel, another less-than-positive review of OLIVIA JOULES (people, can you stop reviewing this book already? There are lots of other books that could get the same airplay after all) Sarah Smith's enjoyment of Elke Schmitter's new novel, an overview of the history of books by servants, and a look at J Robert Lennon's new novel MAILMAN. Finally, Julian Barnes offers up an entertaining story about how literary parties aren't what they are often cracked up to be.

Next, it's the New York Times: Walter Kirn finds YELLOW DOG to be over the top but not nearly as bad as all the hype; In other oft-reviewed books, VERNON GOD LITTLE is deemed "plain fun to read" MY LIFE AS A FAKE is "far from second rate" and David Kamp is less than thrilled with NEVER MIND THE POLLACKS (ah, well).

Then it's the Globe and Mail, where Michael Tait is disappointed with Helen Dunmore's new novel, Camilla Gibb seems to like Toni Morrison's LOVE, Marion Ettlinger's new book of author photographs is examined, and Martin Levin weighs in on the meaning of book reviews.

Margaret Cannon is back with her crime column this week: she's rather charitable towards BLOW FLY, thinks Don Gutteridge is afflicted with the sophomore jinx, loves Henning Mankell's latest out in translation, is underwhelmed by Charles Todd's new standalone, adores Richard North Patterson's BALANCE OF POWER, and finds Gaylord Dold's debut undermined by historical inconsistencies that are easily checked on Google.

In random news: The Pen Literary Society wants to become a charitable organization, but some of its members are balking, as the move may curttail their ability to do political activism. The Boston Globe has a short feature on Nick Hornby. And USA TODAY features a review of first-time author David Kocienewski's gritty look inside the NYPD.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Deals. deals. deals 

David Soul, who was one of the leads on STARSKY & HUTCH (which one was he again? Yes, I could look it up, but even if I did I'd forget. It's kind of a running joke between my brother and me) and made a few movies before leaving the limelight, will write his memoirs for Transworld. The book's up for auction in the US, by which time his agents will have figured out that he played Starsky....no wait, it was Hutch! When the movie starring Ben Stiller & Owen Wilson comes out next year, the confusion will begin anew.

Happy happy joy joy, the Cult of Sherlock continues. Look, the originals were fine, Laurie King's series I can sort of tolerate because she writes extremely well but....the madness must end. Please. Except of course, it won't, as we can now look forward to the sprightly adventures of Mr. Holmes at the ripe old age of 93. And speaking of madness, it looks like there's still something to be wrung out of Tupac Shakur's life and career. Not content with remixing songs and releasing posthumous albums (aren't there more dead 2Pac albums than there were live 2Pac albums?) the machine spits out a book detailing his "letters, poems, and erotic fantasies."

I'll just let that speak for itself.

Phyllis Diller's long career was based on her being...well, Phyllis Diller. Now we'll find out why. I do think the memoir's title--FROM A LAMPSHADE TO A WHOREHOUSE--is pretty cool.

And finally, it looks like the US publishing world got over its cold feet about publishing Helen Fielding's new novel after all. OLIVIA JOULES will have a home with Viking and be published next summer, just in time to fulfill its promise as a beach read. Or something.

Ignore the disclaimer 

Because TMFTML shows a decidely gifted aptitude for hard-boiled parlance. In fact, we're rather hoping that The Anonymous One (Caustic Be He) might consider expanding beyond homage into more original terrain.

It must be said, however, that certain lady detectives might keep the randy client firmly in his place.

And here's the news 

The BBC's Big Read has been dramatizing several novels as part of the campaign to see which is better. When they did J.D. Salinger's THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, evidently they forgot to ask permission. Salinger doesn't like when people forget to do that, and he's rather pissed.

A Dutch appeals court has blocked publication and sales of the Russian book TANYA GROTTER, saying it's ripping off J.K. Rowling's books. I'm sure this story isn't over yet. Meanwhile, ORDER OF THE PHOENIX finally gets published in Germany. What took so long?

Naturally, with all the hype, someone (namely the Guardian) has to interview Helen Fielding about her new book.

Martina Cole is one of the most popular crime writers in the UK, as this interview points out. Her East End-set books have really struck a chord with the masses as they chronicle lives of poverty and crime in a salty, earthy manner. Although some writers are jealous of Cole's success (I've heard some of the griping myself), many should take after her in terms of how she supports young and up-and-coming writers. At Crime Scene this summer, she was on a rather contentious panel talking about whether "crime is a matter of class." She handled herself very well, and at the end, shocked and delighted the crowd (and the panel) by holding up an advanced reader's copy of Richard Burke's psychological thriller FROZEN (due out in early January from Orion). Cole also supported Mark Billingham's career early on when she bought hundreds of copies of his second novel, SCAREDY CAT, to give to her friends, urging them to read the book. She might not be to everyone's taste but I do admire her a great deal.

The letters at Mobylives are amusing me greatly. Especially (as of now) the second letter from the top, that the reason for touring is to "attract groupies." Hell, they should have asked me about that, although since it (my first published article, I might add) is more than 2 years old, it does seem rather quaint......

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Jenny Colgan vs. Olivia Joules 

Well folks, this was the review I'd been waiting for. I'll explain why. The thing that struck me about Helen Fielding's new novel wasn't so much that it was a "departure" from the Bridget Jones books, but that she was trying to do something which, frankly, has been done a whole hell of a lot better by other writers.

OLIVIA JOULES is supposed to be a plot-driven book about a woman who kicks ass and takes names, but does so in a distinctly feminine manner. She's a superspy who doesn't use a gun. She gets to run around the world saving bad guys, all the while looking good. Well guess what? This isn't new or refreshing or even all that exciting, not when we've got this manifesto around:

Tart. It's a potent four-letter word. Sweet, sour, sharp, sexy, bad, with a touch of cheesecake. It seemed to sum up the detectives in a certain segment of the crime fiction genre, the independent-minded female sleuths who are tough enough to take on thugs and corrupt cops, tender enough to be moved by tough, tender men (or women, as the case may be). These are neofeminist women, half Philip Marlowe, half femme-fatale, who make their own rules, who think it's entirely possible to save the world while wearing a drop-dead dress and stiletto heels. Our heroines are Modesty Blaise and Emma Peel, our morals are questionable and our attitude always needs adjustment...

That's taken from the introduction of the 2002 short story collection TART NOIR, which grew out of the Tart City website. It's a collection that takes this philosophy to heart, and then some. They started by reading Peter O'Donnell's classic novels and comic strip about Modesty--a woman who got into fearless adventures but did it her way, and never sacrificed her femininity. She didn't have to. Emma, of course, is every man's dream, and every woman aspires to own her wardrobe. But she was more than that--smart, witty, and could karate chop like no one's business. Take all that, add a dash of Marlowe, a little bit of James M. Cain, a sprinkle of V.I. Warshawski and a teaspoon of Sharon McCone and you get what the Tart Noir authors--Lauren Henderson, Stella Duffy, Chris Niles, and Katy Munger, to name a select few--have been doing for years.

Which was why when it was reported that Fielding's impetus for writing OLIVIA JOULES was because she couldn't find any light reading that struck her fancy, I wanted to slap her. Was she not looking terribly hard? Just get a copy of BLACK RUBBER DRESS or LEGWORK and see what a smart, sexy, sharp (and alliterative) heroine can do. These writers haven't taken any shortcuts; they've put together a melting pot of influences to come up with some seriously good stuff. Fielding, OTOH, seems to have opted for a shortcut. An anti-Bridget Jones? Well, Helen, you're late for your very own party, by several years.

Colgan, a romantic comedy writer who contributed to the aforementioned TART NOIR anthology, probably wasn't chosen to review OLIVIA JOULES by accident, considering her passionate defense of Chick Lit a few years ago. And she begins the review disclosing what a fan she is of Fielding and her previous books. But Colgan goes on to deliver the bottom line:

But poor old Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination doesn't work in the slightest. Actually, it never really has a chance. For some reason, Fielding's great gift of spot-on observation, of seeing the world more sharply than anyone else, whether in an African disaster centre or a north London wine bar, has been chucked out of the window in favour of what even her most fervent admirers would admit has never been her strongest point: plot. And boy, is there a lot of it.

As she goes on, it's obvious how Colgan is disappointed to come to this conclusion; Fielding was one of her heroes, someone whose penchant for sparkling satire paved the way for an entire subgenre (and backlash, to boot.) But something, indeed, is missing. Was it the rush to publication? Was it the emalgamation of many ideas that by all accounts, didn't quite come to fruition? Was it an attempt to try a "formula" that others are simply more successful at? Hard to say, of course. I'd like to read OLIVIA JOULES at some point so I can see for myself, but I'd also rather be reading authors who are writing the kinds of heroines I like to read about who are much more comfortable doing so.

The New York Times Bestseller List, November 16 

Frankly, the list this week kind of bores me. The same old suspects are atop the list, only the order has changed. It's getting to the point where there ought to be a Christian Bestseller List so they can put the Left Behind series (and all of its spinoffs, real or otherwise), THE DA VINCI CODE, Jan Karon's Mitford saga and whatever else fits there and leave us poor unenlightened souls to books that actually are worth reading.

Of course, that means that Ms. Cornwell would still be on the main list, but we can't have everything, can we.

The highest debut this week is something decidedly unChristian, the latest (maybe last?) Vampire Lestat book, BLOOD CANTICLE, making the list at #5. Have to give Ms. Rice some props, though I suspect--not having read the book--that another round of editing would have helped. It's been sadly lacking in her books the last few years, after all. At #7 is R.A. Salvatore's SF/F novel about something or other.

Dead people show that they can make the bestseller lists yet again as Robert Ludlum's The Tristan Betrayal (by whom, Isolde?) charts at #10. FWIW it's really Gayle Lynds that writes the books, and I'm guessing she does a whole lot better financially with these than with those under her own name. The pleasures of ghostwriting...

Right after is Toni Morrison's much reviewed LOVE, and at #14, with his own very special contributition to the Christmas Book subgenre, is Eric Jerome Dickey. I don't much get the Christmas book thing, to be honest, not just because, um, I don't exactly celebrate it. But you don't exactly see publishers beating down the door for a Very Special Heartwarming Chanukah story, now do you. Which reminds me, Grisham's SKIPPING CHRISTMAS is back in the extended charts again at #31.

And speaking of the extended, the newbie is Mike Lupica's newest sports novel RED ZONE. Otherwise, it's the same old, though interesting that ELIZABETH COSTELLO is still hanging around the list at #35. People do read high falutin' novels.

Sorry for the general apathy this week. I guess it's Seasonal Affective Disorder or something, but I'm sure things will get more fun once Christmas is actually in sight and shoppers are frantically trying to get crappy gifts for their loved ones just in time. So tune in next week, and hopefully things will be more interesting list-wise.

The Hebrew Hammer 

Oh. My. God. As Adam says, "this movie better not suck." It also marks the 25th anniversary of the first time a Jewish PI graced movie screens. And I do wonder, what would Moses Wine make of this next generation gumshoe?

And damned if the theme song hasn't already lodged itself into my head....

Speaking of Zagat... 

Now that Jennifer Weiner is a mom, she gets some rather interesting questions at signings:

"Are you going to write a book for children?"

"You have so much joy and energy! Are you going to have more babies?"

To the latter question, she wished she would have answered "did my mother tell you to ask that?" But the first question is somewhat more pertinent, and Weiner sometimes fantasizes about doing a Zagat for children:

The "ORGANIC PEAS" in the "SMALL GLASS BOTTLE" had an "UNAPPEALING" "GREENISH-GRAY" color and a "RUNNY" consistency. However, because of the waitstaff's "CAJOLING, INSISTENT" manner, you'll more than likely find yourself "EATING SEVERAL BITES" and even "SUCKING THE BIB" afterwards.

Hey, sounds good to me.....

Do I really need a subject line? You all know it's the morning roundup 

Malaysia has this nasty habit of censorship in place and now they've extended it towards "tomes with 'ghostly' tales and those touching on the supernatural." Something about how they don't want the masses frightened. But Harry Potter is still OK.

Maslin kinda likes Peter Carey's MY LIFE AS A FAKE. One of the things about living in London this summer is that many of the books the NYT is reviewing now, well, I saw in bookshops there ages ago. So it all feels like old news to me.

And more in the few days late category: Oline Cogdill, certainly one of the best and well-loved mystery reviewers around, enjoyed Val McDermid's THE DISTANT ECHO very much.

Highly regarded poet and children's writer Charles Causley has died at the age of 86.

Jonathan Yardley's take on Cecil Beaton and his diaries is that he's " amusing fellow, but one quick to wear out his welcome." Elsewhere at the post, Sharon Zimmerman reviews Laura Lippman's EVERY SECRET THING and thinks that though Lippman has "an ambitious novel of ideas within her, this one, however, isn't it." To each his or her own, I suppose, but then I've long been on record as agreeing with this particular review. And a few days late, but Patrick Anderson's thriller column is up, looking at novels from two Irish expats, John Robinson and Adrian McKinty.

James Hewitt is a cad. This documentary pretty much confirms this.

Poor Giles Gordon. The famed literary agent was just reeling from his daughter's account of his son's suicide, and now he's critically ill after a fall. A speedy recovery to you. (link from Moby.)

An interesting interview with the very talkative Kathy Lette appears in the Scotsman.

What do you do when you're hooked on books? That's the question what two recent books by Sara Nelson and Nancy Pearl examine. As a complete and total bookaholic, all I can add to the fray is that if I'm without a book to read, I get cranky, grumpy, and am not always fit to be around people. Give me books, and I am a happy girl.

A lot of people have started whining that the Zagat restaurant books are wildly inaccurate. Uh, I thought the whole point of these guides is that they are all a matter of personal taste?

Mystery Ink has updated with several new reviews as well as a great interview by Yvette Banek of Jeffrey Cohen, the author of the Aaron Tucker series, most recently A FAREWELL TO LEGS.

And finally, The Complete Review has updated their Overview of Literary Blogs and yours truly gets an honorable mention. At the top of the heap are the usual suspects: Maud, Moby, Moorishgirl and Bookslut, along with the Waterboro Library Blog and one I hadn't heard of until now (shame on me), NewPages' Blog.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Lippman updates 

The latest installment in Laura Lippman's blog-but-not-a-blog is up. She talks about rereading some of her favorite works, including Larry McMurtry's DESERT ROSE.

What does Paris have that they all want? 

I tried, oh how I tried, not to comment on today's item about the woman who puts the "ho" in hotel. But I couldn't let the idea that she's the "ultimate resolution of the virgin/whore archetype" go completely unnoticed.

For one thing, when Paris and her younger sister Nicky burst onto the party scene a few years back, I doubt "virginal" was the adjective most people (by that I mean men, but let's add Ingrid Casares to the mix as well) had in mind when watching the Hilton girls' antics. "Spoiled" "publicity hungry" and "attention-starved" seem far more likely words to have sprung to mind upon sighting them cutting in line or dancing drunkenly or tottering around in ridiculously high heels. The problem, it seems to me, is that the Hiltons, especially Paris, really don't know how to relate to people except in terms of how important they are, or more specifically, how important they are to them. And playing the shy, coy, hard to get virgin stereotype simply isn't in their vocabulary. As Choire eloquently said in his letter to Paris two months ago, it would do everyone--especially herself--some good if she could take a vacation. But with this sex tape, I guess it's less about rest and more about damage control for the time being.

If anyone fits the archetype perfectly, albeit in an extremely obvious manner, it's Britney Spears. What the future holds for her, I have no clue, but I have no problem seeing her, 10 years from now, married to some televangelist type and spouting the Good Word of the Lord as a bible-thumpin', proselytizin' gal. If Tammy Faye could do it, so can Britney. Granted, the televangelist type she ends up with--or, because the TV preacher thing was so incredibly late 80s--would have to do a better job of not getting into trouble with the taxman....

Fuzzy math 

So the news is all over how Bryan Adams supposedly shagged Princess Di back in the day. His ex, Danish actress Cecilie Thomsen, offers her own take on the story. This little snippet caught my eye the most:

Thomsen, 28, is probably best known for her appearance in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. Her 12-year relationship with Adams ended last year.

So they hooked up when she was 16 and he was 31? Hmm, not beyond the realm of possibility, but it seems to walk the fine line between acceptable and statutory....

Who smoked dope? 

Roger Simon is holding a contest (though it took someone else to let him know) to see which of the Democratic candidates really inhaled. Go take your guesses. I think a better question is who did smack, but maybe that's me....

The verdict is in 

As expected, Green River Killer Gary Leon Ridgway pleaded guilty to the murders of 48 women in Washington since 1982, making him, at least in terms of admitted killings, the worst serial killer in US history (only Russia's Andrei Chikatilo tops him, with 52 murders of Russian women and children in the 1980s.) Ridgway described his actions in chilling detail:

"In most cases, when I murdered these women, I did not know their names," Ridgway's statement to the court said. "Most of the time, I killed them the first time I met them. I do not have a good memory for their faces. I killed so many women, I have a hard time keeping them straight.

"I hate most prostitutes. I did not want to pay them for sex," he acknowledged. "I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up, without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away, and might never be reported missing."

Prosecutors will ask for 48 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. However, no word on what the state of Oregon, where several of Ridgway's victims were found, will decide with regards to charging him or seeking the death penalty.

News of the day 

Kenyan born former physicist M.G. Vassanji won the Giller Prize last night. It's the second time Vassanji has won, which is the first time any author has repeated the honor.

Booktrade.info thinks the Guardian is rather obsessed with Iain Duncan Smith's debut thriller, and they might be right, because they are at it again, this time with several less-than-glowing reviews of the new books.

Sara Nelson's first book recently came out, and the conventional wisdom was that she should have a lengthy book tour. She offers reasons why this may no longer be practical. I'm inclined to agree, if only because I see far too many authors in the crime fiction world travel from place to place, pick up all sorts of illnesses, and burn out because they are only playing to bookstores sparsely populated with perhaps only half the fans being there for the author. Granted, some people have the Neverending Tour down to a near art form, but really, no matter how much fans may clamor, sometimes it's just a lot healthier to say no....

The New York Times profiles Richard Heffner, longrunning host of The Open Mind, and the new book based on 50 years of the television series. Also at the NYT is a bizarre profile on Susan Orlean's dog, who also happens to be an author. Okay....will Cooper Gillespie next join forces with Jazzy for their next outing?

Publishers' Weekly has an extremely long profile of the mystery genre and 9 promising mystery writers, including Karin Slaughter and Eric Garcia. Also, Kate Mattes of Kate's Mystery Books (and the recent co-venture with Justin, Charles & co.) is profiled as well. (links from Jiro.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

An Irish-American outlook 

I'm currently reading Michael Collins' THE KEEPERS OF TRUTH, which was shortlisted for the Booker in 2000 (it lost to Margaret Atwood's THE BLIND ASSASSIN.) Collins is woefully underrated, especially in America, as his most recent novels have chronicled the rot of American small towns and offer extremely insightful social commentary cloaked in the structure of a crime novel. His books are as close as one can get to a "literary thriller" as possible; they are accessible and keep you turning the pages but are deeply disquieting as well. KEEPERS probably won't be my favorite of his works; that honor goes to the just released LOST SOULS (available Stateside in May 2004), which has had a number of conflicting takes but the Observer's review really gets it:

"The world of Michael Collins may be a gloomy place. The things that happen there may be gloomier still. But his mastery of style, moment and place, gives it a curious vitality which is thoroughly compelling."

Collins has been based in Seattle for several years, originally landing there after an undergraduate degree at Notre Dame and postgrad work in Chicago. He moved there to work for Microsoft, and even though he'd been several-times published in the UK and Australia, he'd long been without a book deal in the US and didn't tell any of his co-workers that he was a writer until he needed to fly over to Ireland to accept their Book of the Year award for KEEPERS. Although at the time they feared his book was about them, it wasn't the case, although his next book may hit closer to the home of Gates & co. Collins remarks further in this recent interview:

“The new novel I’m writing though is a bigger book. I’m reckoning on two years for that.” His new project, Exodus, is set in the future, and it’s all about rich Americans “who decide they just want to leave the planet.”

Sounds to me like his attempt to write a JG Ballard sort of book, but whether that's the case, of course, remains to be seen. In the meantime, Collins is also working on a memoir of life with his brother, tentatively titled THE PARASITE. And things look good for turning another of Collins' novels, THE RESURRECTIONISTS, into a movie. The future is very bright indeed for someone who is fast becoming one of my very favorite writers.

It had to happen 

More from the Michiko Paint-By-Numbers Club:

While British critics enthusiastically compared "Vernon" to classics like "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "The Catcher in the Rye," the book actually reads more like Beavis and Butt-head trying to do Nathanael West.

As my mind is not nearly as gifted as others, I'll wait for the actual rendition of B&B's version of THE DAY OF THE LOCUST (especially if poetry is involved.)

Ridgway and the Death Penalty 

Even though Gary Ridgway is set to plead guilty to 48 murders related to the Green River Killer case, the state of Oregon, where 4 of the victims were found, are seriously considering charging Ridgway with those crimes and seeking the death penalty. So, 48 murders isn't enough to warrant a death sentence, but in another state, 4 somehow is?

Obviously, it's nowhere near as simple as that. Though I suspect that when push comes to shove, Oregon isn't going to buck the trend either. But that leads to the next question, already asked earlier: if the most "decorated" serial killer in history won't be put to death, what does that mean for capital punishment in general?

Frankly, it's just not a very viable option in criminal cases anymore. As DNA technology improves and older evidence samples can be tested several decades after the fact, more inmates are discovered to have been wrongfully convicted and are released from death row; former Illinois Governor George Ryan's blanket commuting of every death row inmate may not have been the most ideal solution, but with 138 exonerations nationwide and a spate of problems in Illinois (the Jeanine Nicarico and Lori Roscetti murders are perhaps the most notorious cases) every single sentence of death had become sufficiently tainted. As the number of wrongfully convicted continue to grow, and the number of states that take the death penalty off the books (or at least decommission it), the more likely it seems that it may become a relic of the past, current polls notwithstanding.

The other reason besides wrongful convictions is an issue of cost. The appeal process is lengthy and laborious, and thus drives up the expensesas compared to life imprisonment. No doubt this is one of the main reasons for Ridgway's impending plea bargain. Washington State likely feels it is simply not worth the expense of a long trial that would take many months, if not years, to fully unveil the case against him and rebut whatever challenges may come along with way. Never mind that the victims' grieving family members have waited this long for a resolution (never closure) and any delay would exacerbate matters unnecessarily.

Yet another factor that may have pushed towards a plea deal is to sweep allegations of incompetence under the rug, or at least attempt to do so. Ridgway had been suspected as the Green River killer for almost two decades, and there were far too many instances where he could have been apprehended but was not, where evidence was misplaced or not properly treated. Too much infighting and miscommunication hampered investigation's progress as well, and revisiting clues meant sifting through thousands of pages and a great many files; no easy task, certainly. In a way, it's amazing Ridgway was finally arrested; I wasn't the only one who thought there'd be no resolution. But how much of the "real story" will ever be revealed? No doubt there will be several writing books about the case; as mentioned before, Ann Rule is going to be one of them. I hope she gets to tell the definitive account but only if her publisher allows her several years to complete it.

Ultimately, what effect Ridgway's plea will have on the death penalty overall remains to be seen. Already there's a fledgling movement by Massachusets Governor Milt Romney to put the death sentence back on the books in that state, arguing that "advances in forensic science have made it possible to adopt a death-penalty system so reliable that innocents on death row can be made a thing of the past." Speaking as a forensic scientist (to be, anyway) that's a typically misinformed statement. DNA evidence is powerful, but its power lies in a) statistical measures and b) interpretation of the data. There are many, many complications that can affect how the data is interpreted and how much of a "match" can be made between an unknown sample and a known one. The probability is always higher for exclusion than it is for inclusion. One can never say "this is an absolute match," only that "there is a high probability of a match." It isn't just semantics talking either, as the debacle in the Harris County, TX (a state that's very death-penalty happy, but I shan't comment further on that) laboratory in the last year showed. Before taking measures to put a flawed statute back into circulation, it might not be a bad idea to see how many more wrongful convictions turn up. A process which, no doubt, will still be occurring for years to come.

The irony, if you will, is that Ridgway's status as a many-times-over serial murder seems as good a reason as any to use the death penalty. However, if Washington state won't do it, I don't know how useful it would be for Oregon to do so as well. Perhaps their reasoning lies in the following statement:

"The Washington County district attorney's [. . .] office told KATU it has played no roll (sic) in the negotiations with Gary Ridgway, in fact the they have never even been contacted by the Green River task force.

Politics at play? You be the judge.

Of broom closets and other things 

Boris Becker hasn't had a good few years. Although he garnered some good notices for his work doing color commentary for Wimbledon, otherwise, he's faced tax evasion, losing his fortune, and a very messy paternity case that broke up his marriage. Now he's written a book which deals with his five-minute dalliance with Angela Ermakova in the broom closet in a much more revealing manner.

Neal Pollack is back after his mega rock 'n roll tour. He's rather disappointed with the movie SHATTERED GLASS:

I went to see Shattered Glass over the weekend, and was bitterly disappointed that my role in the sordid affair was glossed over, and, some would say, utterly ignored by the screenwriter. This is very typical, I think, of the way Hollywood treats the Jews. To set the record straight: I was at The New Republic the whole time, or at least part of the time, if nothing else then because I was constantly trying to get Leon Weiseltier to return my calls.

No word though on Pollack's reaction to the glossing over of his importance in THE MATRIX: REVOLUTIONS (or LORD OF THE RINGS while we're at it.)

As the awarding of the Giller prize approaches, Michael Ondaatje worries that the wrong books are being picked by juries.

The singers Kim Stockwood, Tara MacLean, and Damhnait Doyle have formed a new "supergroup" called Shaye. The band is named after McLean's younger sister, who died recently in a car crash. Other tragedies and joys have had a hand in shaping the group, but none more so than Shaye MacLean's death:

The events leading to Shaye's death ironically lend themselves beautifully to song, although the singers chose not to write about it for this album. She'd pulled over to the side of the highway to kiss her boyfriend when a driver who was changing radio stations lost control and hit the couple's car from behind.

"She left us in a very romantic way," MacLean said. "There was no fear. All she knew was love in that moment and I think if you're going to leave, you should leave in love."

Well, it's a lovely sentiment, but no, car crashes are not romantic. They really rather suck. But I wish the group a lot of luck, as I like all three singers quite a lot. (especially Stockwood's "Jerk.")

Obligatory Paris Hilton mention (which was already commented on at Gawker yesterday.) And for good measure, a Bush twin makes Page Six for the first time in eons, although this time not for what she did, but what she was privy to, as she innocently went to take a shower and heard buzzing noises in the stall next door:

'Oh, no, no, we weren't having sex, and that wasn't a vibrator. She was just shaving me.'


Monday, November 03, 2003

The Weekly Lunch Menu 

Meg Cabot figures quite prominently in this week's installment. Not only will she be writing three more books in the PRINCESS DIARIES series, but she's sold a sequel to ALL AMERICAN GIRL (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and an additional novel, TEEN IDOL, for a tidy seven figures. The UK and German rights have sold as well. The woman is a blooming phenomenon, but she's really got a way with the YA voice, I must say.

In the Dan Brown Ripoff sweepstakes:

Author of THE AMBER ROOM Steve Berry's THE THIRD SECRET, based on the premise that after being sealed away in the Vatican for decades, the third secret of Fatima was revealed to the world in May 2000, and one man -- a cardinal who schemes to be pope -- knows there was more to the message, and what he knows will change the world forever, plus a second untitled international thriller, to Mark Tavani at Ballantine, in a significant deal, by Pam Ahearn at The Ahearn Agency (world).

And the message is: "help, I'm being held hostage in a Vatican cookie factory."

Moving on...

Author of the bestselling THE KITCHEN BOY Robert Alexander's new work of historical fiction RASPUTIN'S DAUGHTER, inspired by a historical document in the author's collection, in which the eldest child of the charismatic Russian holy man recounts the last days and murder of her father, to Jane von Mehren at Viking Penguin, for six figures, by Marly Rusoff (world).

Cool, as I love Russian history. I know Alexander is a pseudonym for a previously published author but the name escapes me now.

Director, screenwriter, and novelist Neil Jordan's SHADE, a haunting novel of love and war, narrated by the ghost of a woman who is murdered in the opening scene of the book, the story of two pairs of siblings growing up in Ireland in the first half of the century and how their lives interweave, to Karen Rinaldi at Bloomsbury, for publication in fall 2004, by Kim Witherspoon at Witherspoon Associates (US).

Oooh, this could be quite interesting, indeed. I gather it's a UK only deal but it wouldn't surprise me if a US deal was forthcoming.

Lori Avocato's OPEN WIDE, three books that follow investigator and former nurse Pauline Sokol and her cast of sidekicks as they investigate "medicine, mayhem, and murder," to Erin Richnow at Avon/Morrow, in a nice deal, by Jay Poynor at The Poynor Group (world).

Another POD publisher who makes good. Sounds like an interesting premise for a new series, in any case.

Andreas Killen's untitled book on 1973, arguing that it was a watershed year in American history (Watergate, the Yom Kippur war, the first Arab oil shock, Wounded Knee, the passage of the Rockefeller laws, and the re-instatement of the death penalty), a moment of major realignments and
shifts in culture and society, when Americans attempted to make sense of the Sixties and look to the future, Gillian Blake at Bloomsbury, for publication in winter 2005, by Richard Abate at ICM (world English).

Don't forget Roe v. Wade and a little less seriously, the #1 hit The Cover of the Rolling Stone....

And one for the cranky bloggers:

Spin senior writer and Esquire columnist Chuck Klosterman's KILLING YOURSELF TO LIVE: 85 PERCENT OF A TRUE STORY, a raucous road story based on the author's 21-day nationwide search for the final resting places of dead rock & rollers, the nature of relationships (particularly his own), the cult of celebrity, and the final word on, um, death, again to Brant Rumble at Scribner, by Daniel Greenberg at Levine/Greenberg (NA).

So this year's book got the sex and drugs and now he's doing the rock 'n roll part? I hope he picked some semi-obscure ones, though I doubt he'll make it to Paris to see Jim Morrison, but who knows?

A word about the bestsellers 

Oh goody. Janet's doing her "gee I wonder" breathless act as she gabs about some of the current blockbusters, and the famous author "brands" behind them. It doesn't matter what they write, how massive it is (think Neal Stephenson) or how tiny (Mitch Albom): the latest from Stephen King, James (and the Ghostwriter Factory) Patterson and Patricia Cornwell signifies an event.

Further about Albom's runaway success THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN:

Other popular books fall into a Mini category, to the point where their size is a selling point. Sure, Mitch Albom's "Five People You Meet in Heaven" could have been about 23 people you meet in heaven instead. But Mr. Albom, the author of "Tuesdays With Morrie" — who may have an even bigger hit with this new book, since it taps into the baby boom generation's fear of death — chooses to keep this book short, sweet and colorful. You may not even want to wait for the movie version to discover that one of the five people is blue.

Dammit, why did she have to spoil the fact that this is the aforementioned blue soul?

Anyway, after tut-tutting her way through the entire piece, Janet offers a glimmer of hope for those who want well-written brain candy:

If this is mainstream, where are the simple best-seller basics? (Good yarn, good characters, good time.) For now at least, they're in the South. Both James Lee Burke's "Last Car to Elysian Fields" and Stephen Hunter's "Havana" feature dynamic plotting. (Mr. Hunter opens with a gangster shooting a horse in Times Square.) And they present the authors' familiar, likable leading men, heroes who hail from New Orleans (Mr. Burke's Dave Robicheaux) and Arkansas (Mr. Hunter's Earl Swagger, who winds up in Cuba).

Allow me to add several more suggestions, a little off the bestseller beaten track (because you all knew I would, naturally): if police procedurals are your thing, there's A LONG DECEMBER, the latest in Donald Harstad's excellent series set in small town Iowa. Less folksy and a hell of a lot more noir is VIXEN, Ken Bruen's latest installment in his Brixton-set series. For PI fare that's far beyond genre conventions, there's Jim Fusilli, who continues a wonderfully developing series with TRIBECA BLUES, and Paul Johnston's THE LAST RED DEATH, a Greece-set political thriller with a sweeping canvas. For crime fiction that doesn't easily fit into a niche (and all the better for that) there's Sean Doolittle's BURN and the wrenchingly noir KISS IT AWAY from Carol Anne Davis. Because paperback originals are truly the ugly stepchildren of the genre, it's only fair that I highlight a few, including Alina Adams' droll MURDER ON ICE and MG Kincaid's upcoming THE LAST VICTIM IN GLEN ROSS. I've already talked about Laura Lippman and Dan Fesperman to death here, but no harm in bringing up the Best of Baltimore up once again. And because it comes the closest to my pseudo-utopian "Yid Noir" ideal (aside from being an excellent crime novel) I bring you SITTING SHIVA by Elliot Feldman. All good stuff, and since the Christmas commercials have begun, no time like the present to give your friends and family some great reads instead of the usual bestseller fare.

Remembering Carolyn 

The latest Holt Uncensored column offers a stirring tribute to the late Carolyn Heilbrun and seeks to set the record straight. Pat Holt was rather furious with the New York Times' obituary as in her mind, it glossed over Heilbrun's life and focused solely on her determination to kill herself, whether that was actually true or not. As well, there are lots of letters concerning the previous column, most notably from agent Natasha Kern and writer Veronica Dolan.

Monday Morning QB 

Robert Birnbaum's latest interview at Identity Theory is with Vendela Vida. She seems like a smart enough cookie, I'll give her that. But her whole thing about Snarkwatch attempting to "stamp out" snarky reviews? Not by a long shot.

"James Ellroy's Feast of Death", a documentary by the man who brought us the marvellous THREE KINGS, is airing on Showtime tonight. I've never met Ellroy, but based on interviews and those who have met him, he's quite the character, to say the least. Anyway, the ever-ubiquitous Virginia Heffernan has more to say about this.

Only five days ago, Iain Duncan Smith was tossed out of the Conservative party. Now he's on the campaign trail again--this time to hawk sales of his debut thriller, The Devil's Tune, out later this month.

Meanwhile, the saga concerning THE BOOKSELLER OF KABUL just gets more tortured. To recap: Asne Seierstad, a Norwegian journalist, came across Shah Mohammed Rais, his bookshop, and his family while covering the war in Afghanistan. She wrote a book about him highlighting the differences between his prosperity and the way he treated his family, especially the women. The book became a huge success first in Norway, then abroad (it's only just out in the UK and US.) He got pissed, and now he's suing for slander.

Why is the Giller Prize so popular in Canada? Television, according to the Toronto Star's Philip Marchand. That and because literary people love a good award ceremony. God knows there are enough awards in the mystery world, although nothing on TV as of yet. Still, perhaps the promise of cameras would make the Edgar Awards all the more livelier. (link from Moby.)

OLIVIA JOULES AND THE OVERACTIVE IMAGINATION (yikes, doesn't that sound like a Harry Potter title? Must be intentional) was reviewed heavily over the weekend. The Telegraph rather liked it, The Guardian thinks Fielding is "past her sell-by date," while the Sunday Times (no link available) doesn't think that much of the book either.

January's review of the day is Caroline Adderson's second novel, Sitting Practice.

The Bloggerati 

No doubt everyone under the blogger sun is linking to Simon Dumenco's roundup of the best and brightest of the NYC world (complete with cute photos!) but my only comment is this: did this person not make the cut because a cute photo would be out of the question? Folks, that's why the tacky question mark graphic was invented...

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Sunday night roundup 

An interesting retrospective of crime novels with a library setting in today's Boston Globe Ideas section. As well, Leonard Cassuto, who is currently working on a cultural history of 20th century crime fiction (this could be really cool or really dry) highlights the life and career of the late, great Ross MacDonald, who has influenced a multitude of crime writers since.

Late to the Palahniuk party is the Toronto Star, as they are rather disappointed with his latest book, DIARY. Meanwhile, Jack Batten's biweekly crime column focuses on Karin Slaughter's new book, or more specifically, on the trials and tribulations of Lena Adams, one of the three main protagonists but really the heart and soul of the books so far.

Then there's their take on Tama Janowitz's new novel PEYTON AMBERG. The opening paragraph cracked me up:

Tama Janowitz is the kind of writer one expects to find in a People magazine "Whatever Happened To?" round-up, along with the casts of The Facts Of Life and Car Wash.

The rest of Lynn Crosbie's review is similarly arch, and in the end she deems the book "a fabulous disaster."

At the Observer, Peter Guttridge looks at a number of major mystery releases, Mario Vargas Llosa has a new book out, and Robert MacCrum's weekly column focuses on how it's really no fun to be an A-List author: cramped deadlines, editors beating down on the author's door to make sure that manuscript is delivered last week, and super-accelerated publication dates. Like Ms. Fielding's upcoming book, which was evidently only handed in to her publishers a scant few weeks ago, or Thomas Harris's HANNIBAL; he'd given in the manuscript in March of '99, and the book was out in June. Of course, having no pesky editors around to do their work in making sure the book was actually readable did speed up the process considerably. A shame, really, to make the publication process even quicker than it already is, because in the mad rush to get that book in time for a holiday or book conference or whatnot, the quality almost invariably suffers. OLIVIA JOULES may turn out to be a great romp, but I suspect that when Fielding is interviewed a few years later for her next book (which may not need to be rushed to press so quickly, but I doubt it) she'll be shaking her head a lot at the horrors of trying to get this book finished.

And finally, I can't seem to find the link but the Ottawa Citizen's Weekly section had a small article about literary blogs. They asked Ottawa writer Peter Darbyshire what were the best "litblogs" around. He mentions Moby and Bookslut as those that are keeping up-to-date with the latest news and actively breaking stories, as well as featuring writers like Steve Almond and Neal Pollack. Obviously, I wondered why several other sites (you know who they are) weren't mentioned, but I'm sure Darbyshire will be checking them out in due course. And "litblogs"? Um, no. If someone thinks of a better acronym, drop me a line.

The Young and the Restless 

Maureen Corrigan opens her roundup of mystery reviews with the following question:

Aren't there any cute young mystery writers you can introduce me to?" This cheeky question came from a 20-something student of mine during the recent National Book Festival on the Mall. This singleton had come to hear noted mystery writers speak about their craft and to hear her professor introduce them to the crowd. But clearly she was disappointed in seeing some of her favorite writers in the flesh. While a few of the mystery writers in attendance that day could conceivably be labeled "cute" (depending on one's tastes), none was enjoying the first flush of youth. Is mystery writing a fossil's game?

Well, there's a couple of issues here that are mixed up with each other. I'll go with the more serious one first: while it's true that the average age for a debut crime novelist is somewhat older (late 30s/early 40s seems to be a reasonable consensus) than for literary fiction, there are a number of writers who got an early start. Corrigan brings up Karin Slaughter (first published at age 30) and Ayelet Waldman (now 39, first published 3 years ago) but there are a number of crime writers who are still "young" (under 40) who have several books under their belt, including Greg Rucka, John Connolly, Beth Saulnier, Danielle Girard, and Simon Kernick. Upcoming are debut novels from twentysomething Blake Crouch and 21 year old Michael Koryta, whose SMP/PWA contest winning novel will be published later in 2004. The point being, I wouldn't count out the youngsters quite yet. Or perhaps it just takes more time to perfect such skills as plot, pace and characterization that aren't necessarily as important in literary fiction....

As to the second, more frivolous question, the twentysomething in question might want to consider attending one of the many mystery conventions that take place throughout the year. Because as I mused to myself earlier today, there really aren't that many young female singletons out and about in the crime fiction world, so any additions would, I'm sure, be more than welcome to those writers who are on the make. But be careful--the cute ones aren't necessarily the available ones....

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